Save perry

What is perry?

Between 2004 and 2006  my family and I lived in Tewkesbury in England. As a history buff, I had a great time in Tewkesbury as it is the site of one of the great battles of the War of the Roses. It has a magnificent medieval abbey church. As a rugby tragic, I got to play in the local veterans rugby team and  sample the local ales, beers and traditional ciders with my fellow connoisseurs. It is also where I learnt about perry.

I don’t want to weave too elaborate a tale around this, but at the intersection of these things is my word of the week—perry. Perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears and is most commonly made in the West Country of England. Particularly (according to Wikipedia) in the three counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Tewkesbury is on the border of Gloucestershire and only six miles from Bredon Hill in Worcestershire. It is in the heart of perry and cider country.

I was introduced to perry by a cider-maker at the Tewkesbury Farmers Market held in the abbey church car park. I had never heard of it before and the cider-maker let me sample some. He pointed out to me that the small hill behind the church was called Perry Hill. This was where the monks had grown pears to make their perry. It was also where the Lancastrian army had camped the night before their defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury. It now also has some of the town’s rugby grounds, where I had played a few rather excellent games for the Tewkesbury Gentlemen’s XV.

What is cider?

Perry is a fermented pear drink in the same way that cider is a fermented apple drink. This leads me to my gripe. I have now noticed that in local pubs in Sydney they are selling “pear cider”. I was a little annoyed at this. It is like calling a motorcycle a two-wheeled car. We have a word for fermented pear drinks, which is perry, and we have a word for fermented apple drinks, which is cider.

Why is pear cider so wrong?

So why is calling it pear cider so wrong? It comes down to marketing. No-one knows what perry is so marketing people have come up with the name, pear cider, to sell the product. I don’t have a problem with using words to make things clearer, or indeed to sell products. However, I am upset about missing out on using the word perry, which is a far more accurate, interesting, useful and concise word.

Now you may think that this is so very unimportant. But I am not alone in my concerns. CAMRA, the campaign for real ale, and champion of traditional beverages in England is on my side. They are suggesting that there is a risk of confusing pear cider, which is apple-cider flavoured with pear juice, with perry, which is made purely from pears. CAMRA advocate for the stricter use of pear cider to refer to cider with pear juice added.

If you think this a bit excessive compulsive, compare it to the winemakers of France! They have protected the name of champagne from use by sparkling wine makers in Australia, South Africa and California. Even the US recognises perry.

What is jerkum?

I am also hoping that increased interest in perry may open the door for an even more obscurely named West Country drink, plum jerkum. Jerkum was made by fermenting plums in the same way that cider is produced. Jerkum was native to Worcestershire and is most often mentioned in the works of John Moore, a British conservationist and author, born in Tewkesbury in 1907, and Fred Archer, an author of countryside stories, born on Bredon Hill in 1915.

How can you help to save perry?

If you are interested in supporting the campaign for using real words for alcoholic drinks you should drink only perry that calls itself perry. You should boycott pear cider (unless of course it is pear-flavoured apple cider). Try to educate your local publican and the bar staff by asking for perry rather than pear cider. You might even impress them with your knowledge!

So lets fight the fight for perry and hope that if we win we might one day get a chance to drink jerkum in the pubs of Sydney.